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Centrist Democrats now hold the cards as infrastructure bill heads to Biden’s office


WASHINGTON – Centrist Democrats are now in control of President Joe Biden’s social spending and climate agenda after Congress passed his bipartisan infrastructure bill late last week.

House progressives dropped their blockade of the infrastructure measure on Friday after securing pledges from a small but essential group of moderate Democrats who said they would vote for the Build Back Better bill after the Congressional Non-partisan Budget Office has released a cost analysis that matches White House estimates saying the legislation is fully paid for.

There is a big caveat here.

Five Democratic lawmakers – Reps Ed Case of Hawaii, Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Stephanie Murphy of Florida, Kathleen Rice of New York and Kurt Schrader of Oregon – said in a joint statement Friday that they are committed “To vote for the Build Back Better Act, in its current form other than the technical changes, as quickly as we receive tax information from the Congressional Budget Office.” The vote would take place no later than the week of Nov. 15 as long as the CBO’s findings are “consistent” with White House projections, lawmakers added.

The social spending program, originally proposed as a $ 3.5 trillion bill, has been cut in half to $ 1.75 trillion to meet demands from skeptical Democrats in the House and Senate who now have the power to make it fail.

The bill allowed a procedural vote on Friday, after the infrastructure bill was passed, with House Democrats voting unanimously to proceed with the debate on the measure after the CBO released its analysis of costs.

Gottheimer told CNN on Sunday that they fully intend to adopt him by the end of next week.

“We plan to move forward because it will meet our expectations, I’m sure,” he said.

A change of power

Progressive activists are organizing to keep pressure on House centrists to follow through and vote for the bill, with some fearing the left will give up its main lever by passing the infrastructure measure before a vote on all larger expenses.

“I think it shifted the power a bit from the progressives to the moderates,” said Bill Hoagland, senior vice president of the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center.

Representative Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told MSNBC: “They needed time to look at the numbers, but they would vote on it, and it’s a commitment they made. to me. It’s a commitment they made to the president. And it’s a commitment they put in writing. “

Jonathan Kott, Democratic consultant and former aide to Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., said the moderates “will continue to bargain in good faith as they have been” but just want the CBO score. “If the CBO is not as planned, I think the negotiations will continue but will certainly make this process longer,” he said.

If the bill passes the House, it has yet to wipe out the Senate, where two key hurdles remain.

The first is Manchin. He opposed some of the provisions of the House bill, in particular four weeks of paid family and medical leave. This policy and others may need to be removed to win its vote or the Democrats cannot move the bill forward.

The second is the so-called Byrd rule, which limits the budget process Democrats use to spending and tax matters. Republicans can challenge any provision as “foreign,” and the Senate parliamentarian would decide if it can be included.

Kott said he expects the Senate to pass the bill “from mid-December to the end of December.”

“I think the moderates want to make sure they get the right bill, not quickly,” he said.

Competing deadlines

Other strict deadlines could complicate the December schedule. Congress must pass legislation to fund the government by Dec. 3 or face a shutdown. Lawmakers must also raise the debt ceiling to avoid an economic collapse. And Congress plans to pass a massive defense policy bill before the end of the year.

The infrastructure legislation provides for about $ 550 billion in new spending, totaling more than $ 1,000 billion, on projects ranging from roads and public transport to rural broadband. It was co-authored by Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., And it became a major legislative priority of House centrists who had fought with the Liberals for months over the timeline for adopt it.

The legislation is expected to add $ 256 billion to debt over a decade, according to the CBO.

Despite progressives’ greatest fears, centrist Democrats have a lot to like about the Build Back Better bill. Manchin praised universal funding for preschool and child care, Sinema championed climate change measures, and Gottheimer made increasing the national and local tax deduction a priority.

The White House is counting on these incentives to help push the package through the finish line.

The White House is planning a signing ceremony for the infrastructure bill, but there is a complication. Once Biden signs it, a mandatory transfer of $ 118 billion to the highways trust fund would go into effect. If he immediately takes the pen, it could push back the deadline for the debt ceiling.

Hoagland said the Treasury Department may have some leeway on when to transfer the funds to avoid getting close to the borrowing limit before the issue is resolved.

“If the administration wants to delay the transfer, I think they have the flexibility to do so,” he said, adding that the postponement would preserve the deadline his organization had planned from mid-December to January for the time being. where Congress must increase the debt. ceiling.

A senior administration official said on Monday that officials will make an announcement regarding the transfer of money from the highways after the bill is signed.